Tyndall scientists reveal self-powered pacemakers

Smaller pacemakers could be available in the next few years thanks to revolutionary research in Cork to replace batteries with power generated by a patient’s own heartbeat.

Instead of batteries, which require surgery to replace them every few years, the technology being developed at the Tyndall National Institute would harness the energy of vibrations from the heart and turn it into an autonomous generator.

Scientists at the institute have developed a material more flexible than any other designed globally that can be used at the kind of nano-scale needed. It is planned to use this material to create a vibrating cantilever that would respond to the tiny motion of a beating heart.

The next stage of their work is to adapt it to use in a device, although researchers are already applying the technology in a larger scale for more mechanical and industrial use.

“It will make things like pacemakers much smaller, last longer, and eliminate the need for surgeries,” said Dr Nathan Jackson, a principal investigator on the MANpower project.

It was recently awarded €1m in EU research funding to develop energy harvesting and storage capacity powered by low frequency sources like a heartbeat.

“In a world where so much time and effort is focused on being bigger, faster, and louder, this project is about being smaller, slower and quieter,” project head Dr Alan Mathewson said.

The details emerged as Tyndall yesterday unveiled a two-year partnership with leading medical guidewires company Lake Region Medical. It could lead to huge benefits in the battle against heart disease, which claims 10,000 Irish lives and costs the country €1.9bn a year.

Guidewires are already used in procedures and diagnostics are cleverly designed and relatively safe, explained George Shorten, dean of University College Cork’s medical school.

“But if a doctor could take information from the tip of the device itself, maybe visual data or temperature or some measure of the tissue, that would lead to greater safety and efficacy,” he said.

That is the focus of the work being undertaken at Tyndall over the next two years, seeking to vastly improve the potential of advanced light and sensor technology diagnosing and treating heart disease, with a dedicated Lake Region Medical researcher on site.

“With the capability to design, test fabricate, and integrate technology onto devices, Tyndall has the potential to be the most effective institute in Europe in translating micro-sensor research into medical products, and the company is excited to be embarking on this partnership,” said Barry Dolan, technical director and plant manager of the Lake Region Medical’s international research and development centre, based in Galway.

As well as 100 employees there, the company has more than 800 staff in New Ross, making it Wexford’s biggest employer.

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